To people who write and cite documents

I have noticed lately that when citing Church documents some writers are perhaps less than clear about the use of capitalization.

Here is a small point for students and writers to take into consideration.

A common "mistake" rests in simply capitalizing all the words of the title of a document,  itself usually taken from the first few words of the document.  I write "mistake",  though that word is too strong.  It is so common to capitalize all the words as to be acceptable.  You find this even on the Holy See’s website collections of documents.

But… if you want to be perhaps more precise, you could capitalize only what ought to be.

You will often see Lumen Gentium for the Council’s document on the Church.  That’s fine, I guess.  But more correctly it could be written as Lumen gentium, because that is how the document begins.  So too for Gaudium et spes or an encyclical such as Humanae vitae.

On the other hand we should write Sacrosanctum Concilium, not Sacrosanctum concilium, because the word Concilium ought to be capitalized on its own merit. 

The same goes for the encyclicals Mystici Corporis Christi or Divino afflante Spiritu or the Motu Proprio (or motu proprio, etc.) Summorum Pontificum…. not Summorum pontificum. 

If you are going to chose one convention or another, be consistent.  Also, if you are going to go with the more correct way, double check to make sure you are in fact capitalizing what needs to be capitalized.

A small point.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. FrCharles says:

    Fr. Z, you always find an issue close to my heart! :)

    It has always been my understanding that we in the English-speaking world capitalize Church documents in the same way we would as other Latin works, i.e. in “sentence style.” That is to say, the initial is capitalized, but other words only if they be proper nouns or adjectives. (See Chicago 10.60.) Therefore I always write Lumen gentium, and it would be my tendency as well to write Summorum pontificum, though I understand why someone might want to dignify “Supreme Pontiffs” with the capital. I agree that it should be Sacrosanctum Concilium, because the “Council” in question is properly the Council at hand. When people say “The Council” everyone knows they aren’t talking about Ephesus or Constance or Lateran IV, but about Vatican II.

    I would always write motu proprio because this is only a description of a sort of document.

    We suffer from creeping capitalization. “Capitals” are for the heads of things, not all their limbs. Thanks for the fun!

  2. Servant of the Liturgy says:

    I was so happy when I read this post I almost said the “A” word. So instead, Amen! I think you hit the nail on the head with consistency, Father.

  3. John F. Kennedy says:

    I usually “copy and paste.” If it’s that way on the Vatican web site, I don’t bother changing it.

    But I understand your concern. [We should be consistent. Even the Vatican site is not consistent. But we should be. So, double-check.]

  4. Thanks, Father! I will adjust my practice accordingly!

  5. Of course, the real solution is knowledge of both English and Latin.

    I don’t see much sign of the first in my students, let alone the latter.


  6. xathar says:

    From Turabian:

    In Latin and transliterated Greek titles, capitalize the first word and all proper nouns and proper adjectives thereafter. An exception is made for MODERN WORKS with Latin titles, which are capitalized as in English.

  7. xather: Does Turabian address Church documents?

  8. An American Mother says:

    And for those of us who speak German (where all nouns are capitalized) we are now totally confused . . . :-D

    I tend to keep all my ‘languages other than English’ in a single compartment, apparently a lot of other people do too.

    When I took a Scottish Gaelic course, for some reason (must be some strange affinity between the languages) 5 of us (out of a class of 8) were German speakers, and of course since this was a beginner’s class our German was way ahead of our Gaelic.

    This resulted in a lot of sidebar conferences conducted in German as we tried to remember the Gaelic word by rummaging through the brain compartment marked “foreign languages” . . . and a lot of frustration for the teacher who (even though she is married to a Lutheran minister) spoke not word one of German.

    I hit on the creative idea of adding Gaelic endings to a German root. The funny thing was, occasionally I scored that way.

  9. xathar says:

    Fr. Z,

    Not specifically. If one if following Turabian, Church documents would seem to fall under the “Modern Works with Latin Titles” rule.

  10. Sieber says:

    Wait! Wait! Can this be another Olympic event such as the Rubrical Olympics?

  11. Ogard says:

    I would go for a pragmatic solution: what is likely to be consistently accepted but the majority, and easy to apply: all words in capitals. Otherwise, complicated rules would have to be laid down, and they would be interpreted differently, misinterpreted, or simply – ignored.

  12. Ogard —

    We already have at least two different citation systems in place in English, in the US alone. As you find out pretty quickly in college, as your professors warn you to use MLA or to use the other one (Turabian?). It usually depends on what system the professor’s discipline uses, so they’re not being arbitrary; they’re providing job training.

    Almost always, these days, the rule for capitalization in academic papers is to do what your source did. (Thus letting the source’s publishers worry about capitalization practices in their own language or silly theory, and sparing yourself brain strain.)

    So since the proper practice in Church Latin is to capitalize Church documents as Fr. Z has described, that’s the proper citation practice for us too — unless we expect the elementary school teacher, etc., to demand English capitalization. Then you follow the market. :)

    It’s a lot easier to do this stuff now that italics are available in the home.

  13. david s says:

    The style sheet for the magazine Sacred Music follows a rule consistent with xathar’s. The style sheet seems to be based on the Chicago Manual. (

    To wit:
    J. Latin titles of ancient and medieval works receive a capital letter only on their first word: Summa theologiae. Latin titles of modern works are capitalized as in English; Sacrosanctum Concilium. Generic designations as part of a cited title are capitalized but not italicized: but when cited as a generic title alone are neither capitalized nor italicized: Encyclical Letter Deus Caritas Est; motu proprio.

  14. MAJ Tony says:

    Perhaps the easiest way is to remember that Church documents are titled from the first few words of the first sentence and are best capitalized accordingly, unlike typical documents (i.e. essays, book titles, etc.) that are titled by the author based on the subject matter at hand, and are essentially proper nouns. On the other hand, a headline (a la news media) is not generally title capitalized.

  15. At last, someone (Fr. Z) who knows what he’s talking about. I have been beating this drum for years, to scant effect.

    And who the you-know-what cares what Turabian says? I am really sick of that book being cited as if it were a Fifth Gospel.

  16. Ogard says:


    Strictly speaking you are right, but who will implement it? Do you expect from Fr.Z to expand his burden and spend much time standardizing titles or deleting comments, which do not comply with the standard? If we “already have at least two different citation systems in place”; “the rule for capitalization in academic papers”; “the proper practice in Church Latin”….forget about it, simplify it not according to your taste, my taste or anyone taste, but according to what is likely to be accepted in practice by the majority of those who send their comments. If we make too complicated rules, they will be ignored, forgotten, misinterpreted, and Fr.Z’ objective will not be met.

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